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When the USGA started the U.S. Senior Women’s Open last year, Nodjya Cook took an interest in hoping to someday play in the event.
So when the Harrison Lake Country Club teaching pro turned 50 last summer, she thought she’d try to qualify for this year’s event. Last month, she won a qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, and will compete in next weekend’s second U.S. Senior Women’s Open.
“Once I turned 50, it kind of allows you to get in more of the senior professional events,” Cook said. “USGA Women’s Senior was one of them on my bucket list, and I said, ‘I’m going to go out there and see if I still have it.’”
She certainly did. She carded a 2-over-75 at Columbus (Ohio) Country Club to win medalist honors. The top two earned spots in the Women’s Senior Open.
Cook double-bogeyed No. 3, but came back with five birdies during her round.
“As a professional, we still have to stick with it and grind with it,” Cook said. “I’m very pleased with the way I hit. My caddie was absolutely wonderful. Now, I’m even more excited to go and play with the best senior women golfers out there.”
Before coming to Harrison Lake in 2015, Cook had been the director of golf at Richfields Country Club, which was designed by Donald Ross. Next weekend’s Women’s Senior Open will be played on a Donald Ross design at Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
“When I heard that it was going to be played on a Donald Ross design, I wanted to pick one of the qualifying sites because I feel I play the Ross designs pretty well with the false fronts and the undulating greens and his little secrets and twists,” Cook said. “Plus, what makes it more special is, my mother was a Ross, and she had a brother named Donald Ross. It’s just kind of all coincidental.”
Cook played golf for the boys team at Tipton High School and earned a scholarship to Nebraska. After four years with the Cornhuskers, she turned pro and played in some tournaments, winning one in Canada.
Soon after that, Cook became a club pro and spent time at two courses in south Florida. She then spent 12 years in the Johnson City, Tennessee, area before moving back to Columbus at the end of 2014 to be closer to family.
With no golf jobs open at the time, Cook took a corprorate job with SGS CyberMetrix. She took a resume to Harrison Lake and was hired as a teaching pro in January 2015 by then-head pro Keith Clark and chief controlling officer Bob Haddad Jr.
“When Keith told me that he had a gal come in that was interested in teaching golf lessons and had a PGA professional license, I was interested right away. But then when I met Nodjya, and we began to talk, I noticed that her name was Nodjya Cook, and she was talking about coming back to be close to a brother here in town. We realized that the brother she was referring to (Alex Cook) was an old fraternity brother of mine. The world gets small very quickly.”
In addition to her full-time day job, Nodjya Cook works evenings and weekends at Harrison Lake. She does Ladies Clinics and from about eight to 20 lessons a week.
“It keeps me pretty busy,” Cook said. “I work a lot of hours not only in my full-time job, but also golfing, teaching the members here and non-members. It makes it even more special as a female that we have worked so hard in this business and that we can co-mingle not only our corporate life, but our extracurricular activities such as golf and have a positive outcome. What’s really nice is, the Haddads and the club here, because of my corporate job that I have during the day, they embrace and are flexible enough that when I leave SGS CyberMetrix and I come here, they’re all flexible that I can teach in the evenings and on the weekends.”
Cook was named 2010 Golf Professional of the Year and was a three-time Teacher of the Year for Tri-Cities Chapter in east Tennessee. She also was the state of Tennessee winner for the Richard Eller Growth of the Game Award.
Cook credited Indiana PGA director Mike David and longtime mentor Jack Barber, the pro emeritus at Meridian Hills Country Club in Indianapolis, with helping her develop her golf game and teaching.
The Women’s Senior Open qualification for Cook came despite her not being able to do a lot of practicing because of her two jobs.
“We know how difficult it is to qualify for an event like this if you’ve played consistently and practice consistently,” Haddad said. “She hasn’t, and yet, and she goes and qualifies. It makes you wonder if she were able to devote the time and energy to preparing as much as some of the folks that will be playing there, she’d probably bring home the trophy.”
Haddad said it’s exciting for any club to have one of its PGA professionals continue to compete and do well and move on and play in an event as significant and prestigious as the USGA Open.
“It gets the members excited, it builds credibility for the club that we have an extremely professional staff,” Haddad said. “It’s exciting for everybody here. Any of the members that know Nodjya have come to like here and enjoy having her out here. It’s been a great relationship. She’s helped us out, and we’re happy to support her.”
Eleven former U.S. Open winners will be playing in the Women’s Senior Open. Laura Davies won the inaugural event last year.
Play begins Thursday at Pine Needles. The top 50 and ties after the second round on May 17 make the cut to the final two rounds May 18 and 19.
“First and foremost, just go and have fun and see where my game takes me (is the goal),” Cook said. “It’s quite an honor to not only represent Harrison Lake, but the Indiana PGA and to be able to play with some of the all-time greatest golfers.”